Everything that has a design—from coffee cups to websites to fast-food franchises—has resulted from the engineering-design process. It is the way that businesses create innovation.
Designers follow a series of steps to create something new, and they repeat the steps as many times as necessary to achieve their results. From start to finish, the team seeks to create something that solves a problem, providing an excellent experience for end users.
Stages of the Engineering-Design Process
Design thinking involves the following stages:
Define the issue you want to address, the people who are involved, and what the success criteria will be for a solution. You can use these analysis tools to fully define the issue.
Research the issue, focusing on its history, current obstacles, previous solutions, the ideas of stakeholders, and the needs of the end users.
Brainstorm possible solutions, generating an excess of ideas, exploring even impossible or ridiculous notions, turning the issue around, and thinking of it from multiple perspectives. Use these brainstorming techniques to discover many possibilities.
Prototype ideas by creating inexpensive, small-scale, rapid experiments to find out what will work and what will not. Create multiple versions and decide when a given prototype is ready to share with stakeholders and end users. Get feedback and buy-in. See below for more about prototyping.
Rework the prototype, responding to feedback and exploring new options. Revisit the goal and objectives of the project and make adjustments that move the prototype toward an actual version. Use these evaluation tools to help you discover ways to improve your prototype.
Implement the solution, putting it into place in a real-life situation. Monitor its performance, checking constantly against the goal and objectives for the project. Make ongoing improvements, and document your work.
Prior to step 6, the designer may return to earlier stages to ensure a successful final product. In fact, the person might even "go back to the drawing board," starting over with a different approach.
A prototype is an early version of your solution, which you can test out in a real-world setting. When your project is complex and expensive with multiple stakeholders, a prototype lets you “fail early and often”—when failure is cheap. It also helps you get feedback and buy-in from stakeholders.
An Effective Prototype
Is quick and cheap to make
Tests key features of your solution
Prompts analysis of components
Spurs thinking about alternatives
Facilitates design thinking
Allows feedback and buy-in from designers and stakeholders
Is easy to modify or rebuild
Different prototypes have different purposes. Some prototypes are primarily experiments to see what will work. Others are meant to communicate an idea to other creators. Often, prototypes are meant to get buy-in from stakeholders. The most powerful prototypes, of course, perform multiple functions.
The forms of prototypes are dictated by the final product. Plan to prototype each part of a solution that you are uncertain about:
Process prototypes: Proposal, instructions, new procedure, new workflow
Product prototypes: Proposal, concept sketches, rapid prototype, proof of concept, scale model, working prototype
Building prototypes: Proposal, artist’s rendering, elevations, floor plans, scale model, technical rendering
Software prototypes: Proposal, flowchart, wire frame, horizontal prototype, vertical prototype, initial build, beta
Writing-project prototypes: Proposal, table of contents, outline, sample chapters, design prototype, sampler, first draft